Latest Dust-Up Between Obama & Russia’s Putin

I don’t know how many readers pay close attention to US/Russia relations, but it is no secret that President Obama and Russian President Putin have been on the “outs” for some time now. Since Mr. Obama arrived today in St. Petersburg for the G-20 Summit in Russia, the media will be intently focused on the two leaders and their comments and body language for the next couple of days.

You may remember that Obama recently canceled a one-on-one meeting with Putin at the Summit in response to Moscow’s granting asylum to NSA leaker Edward Snowden. More recently at an August 9 press conference, Obama stated that: “Putin slouches like a bored kid at the back of the classroom,” in reference to the Russian leader’s body language. That is notsomething a leader of Obama’s stature would normally say about another world leader.

Obviously, the two governments are also at odds over the situation in Syria, at a time when the White House is attempting to rally support at home and abroad for a military intervention.

Now, with the Summit at hand, the two presidents are escalating tensions once again. Just yesterday, Putin called US Secretary of State, John Kerry, a liar for claiming that Syria’s government used chemical weapons on its own people on August 21. If the media translated Putin’s remark correctly, he said that Kerry “lies and he knows he lies.”

That’s not something a leader of Putin’s stature normally does. Obviously, Putin is unusually upset with Obama right now. And to publicly call Kerry a liar on the day before Obama arrives in Russia for the big Summit is another brazen heightening of the rhetoric between the two. The question is, why?

Russian Constantine Palace is host for 2013 G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg

Russian Constantine Palace is host for 2013 G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg

One reason is that Obama plans to meet with Russian non-govern-mental organizations, human rights activists and gay rights activists that are vocally opposed to the Kremlin and Putin on this trip to Russia. Moscow is extremely sensitive to the possibility of domestic social unrest, especially in light of mass anti-Kremlin demonstrations that have been ongoing since Putin’s return for an unprecedented third term as Russia’s president.

To Obama’s credit, I suppose, he is supporting and drawing attention to groups that are sources of social discord in Russia and to issues that have drawn criticism from the international community. The bottom line is, these two powerful leaders are duking it out, blow by blow, on the world stage. So it will be most interesting to see how they play their cards at the Summit over the next couple of days.

As usual, our old friends at tell us that there’s much more to this US/Russia dust-up than the media is letting on. Stratfor, if you recall, is one of the best sources of global geopolitical intelligence in the world. According to Stratfor, the latest tit-for-tat between Obama and Putin is just a game they are playing, and they both know it.

The game playing, according to Stratfor (and I’m oversimplifying here), continues because Putin wants Obama to keep his nose out of Russia’s domestic problems, and Obama wants Putin to stop blocking our efforts to punish Syria. 

Stratfor contends that there are much bigger political issues at stake between the US and Russia than unrest in Russia or our intent to attack Syria. It is well known that Obama’s meetings with some Russian dissident groups won’t change anything in Moscow. Likewise, it is also well known that Russia is a big ally of Syria and is the source of most of Syria’s defense weapons. Even so, Russia won’t push its fight against a limited US military strike on Syria too far. Again, Obama and Putin both know this.

The bigger issue than the latest “superficial” saber-rattling, according to Stratfor, lies in the energy future for both countries. Putin’s long-term strategy – as one of the world’s largest energy exporters – is to increase Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas. However, with all the new energy discoveries in the US in recent years, we too could become a serious exporter of energy to Europe before long. This is one of the biggest long-term issues according to Stratfor.

I just wanted to bring this issue to your attention today because the media is going to make a big deal about the relationship, or lack thereof, between Obama and Putin over the next couple of days at the G-20 Summit. Expect Obama and Putin to play to the cameras and highlight their squabbles.

Just remember, this is all just a game, and they both know it. Now, you do too.

Posted 09-07-2013 2:08 PM by Gary D. Halbert
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